N.J. Court Says Williams Can Be Retried

The Associated Press
Friday, April 21, 2006; 6:17 PM

NEWARK, N.J. -- A New Jersey appeals court ruled Friday that former NBA star Jayson Williams can be retried on a reckless manslaughter charge in the shooting death of a limousine driver at the athlete's mansion.

The retired New Jersey Nets star had sought to avoid a second trial, contending it would be double jeopardy.

Williams, 38, has been free on bail since his April 2004 conviction on four charges stemming from an attempt to cover up the 2002 shooting. The jury acquitted Williams of the most serious offense, aggravated manslaughter, but deadlocked on a charge of reckless manslaughter.

Williams spokeswoman Judy Smith said the athlete will appeal the ruling. Prosecutor Steven C. Lember did not immediately return a call.

Prosecutors have said Williams was handling the gun recklessly when it went off and killed Costas "Gus" Christofi, 55. Testimony showed that Williams wiped down the weapon and put it in Christofi's hands, stripped off his own clothes and jumped into his pool.

The defense maintained that the shooting was an accident, and that Williams panicked afterward.

The three-judge appeals panel disagreed that another trial would amount to double jeopardy, or being tried twice for the same crime. The panel agreed with the trial judge, Edward M. Coleman, that the case "isn't really a second prosecution, it is a continuation of the same prosecution."

The panel also said it is impossible to determine what evidence the jury used to support its acquittal on the aggravated manslaughter charge.

Williams' sentencing on the cover-up charges has been on hold until the retrial issue and other matters are resolved. Williams, who retired from the Nets in 2000, also plans to appeal those convictions.

Collectively, the four charges carry up to 13 years in prison, but the actual term would probably range from probation to about five years. Reckless manslaughter can bring up to 10 years behind bars.


On the Net:

Opinion: http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/opinions/a2724-04.pdf

© 2006 The Associated Press